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It's Back to School for West Hartford Students

Flag-raisings, rocket launch, and greeting new leaders highlighted opening day for schools in West Hartford.

Bright sunshine and fall-like temperatures helped set the tone for the day as approximately 10,000 West Hartford Public School students began the first day of the 2012-2013 academic year Wednesday.

Throughout town, elementary schools held parades and flag-raising ceremonies as teachers and adminstrators gave a warm welcome to students who arrived fresh-faced and eager to start the year.

For many years, has been a magnet elementary school focused on math, science and technology. Now, that concept has been taken one step further with a name change to the "Florence E. Smith STEM School" and a curriculum that weaves the STEM (science, techology, engineering, mathmatics) concept into every subject.

Smith's flag-raising ceremony was presided over by , who fully embraces the school's new mission. "Maybe one day one of you will be the first woman or first man arriving on Mars ... but in the meantime I wish all of you the best school year ever," he said.

That space message was emphasized as the school "launched" its new mission with the launch of a homemade Styrofoam rocket provided by Al Gloer of the National Association of Rocketry.

Melián challenged the students to start thinking now about what to build for next year's ceremony. "Start imagining the possibilities," he said.

Assistant Superintendent for Administration Tom Moore also attended the opening ceremony, and pledged the administration's support for "the unique needs of Smith."

Moore told Smith students that the school's new STEM focus would help them learn to think differently. "What's impossible is what we need to think of as possible," he said.

STEM affects everything you do, even making your breakfast, STEM Specialist Sharon Zajack told the students and their families. Zajack returned to Smith from Morley, where she had been the curriculum specialist, because she was so excited about the new program.

Smith teachers have been trained for inquiry-based teaching, and will use STEM concepts in all disciplines, including art where students will work with a 3-dimensional architecture program. The music curriculum will include work in Smith's new recording studio, where students will also use their language skills to write songs.

Smith will be the first school in West Hartford with WiFi capability, and that will immediately be useful for the kindergartners who will all be using iPads in their classrooms.

"We are teaching the regular West Hartford curriculum, but enhancing it," Zajack said. 

At , parents greeted Chuck Landroche for coffee in the cafeteria after the school's flag raising ceremony. Landroche, a former Conard principal, will be working part-time at Duffy alongside Principal Kathleen Tracy. "I am here to assist, helping and supporting Kathleen, teachers, and parents," Landroche said.

That this summer following the submission of a petition signed by 90 current and former Duffy parents expressing a vote of "no confidence" in Tracy's leadership of the school. Tracy will retire as Duffy's principal at the end of this school year.

In other schools throughout West Hartford, the day ran smoothly and there were no reports of any problems with bus schedules.

"It was a great opening, we are thrilled to have our children back in school," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List.

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